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World

Life behind barbed wire in Gaza

Though local elections are slated for the West Bank, Palestinians in Gaza won't be casting ballots. Hamas, which controls Gaza, has boycotted the elections, leaving the 1.6 million people there in a difficult position.

Between piles of used spare parts and a container of motor oil, Munzer Al Dayya is working on a generator. The mechanic is a popular man in Gaza City, where power can go out for as long as eight hours a day, and he said he's earning a decent living thanks to the blackouts.

"Every day that we get through is good, but no one knows what's coming," he said. "The only thing that's clear is that the next day will be worse than the previous day. Why, how, and for what? Who knows? No one can explain what's going on here."

A Palestinian man walks past a poster showing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas-run government in Gaza, Photo:+++(c) dpa - Report+++

There is little chance of an agreement between Hamas' Hanija and Fatah's Abbas

Al Dayya said getting an explanation for what's happening in Gaza City depends on who you ask. But one thing is clear - Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and has expanded its control since taking power five years ago. Neither an Israeli blockade nor the US and European isolation policy has been able to change this.

Hamas, labeled a terrorist group by the West, has developed its own bureaucratic structures, ranging from an administration to an all-round security service. Various observers have noted that the political separation between Gaza and the West Bank has been widened by the separate governing structures in the two regions.

No local elections in Gaza

Local elections scheduled to take place in the West Bank on Saturday are expected to widen the gap. Hamas is not taking part in the poll, leaving voters there to choose between the Fatah party and some independent candidates.

"The elections cannot be transparent and fair," said Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum. "Many of our Hamas leaders and members are in prisons run by the Palestinian Authority. These are Fatah elections - not Palestinian elections."

The elections in the West Bank are hardly an issue in Gaza. Most of the Gaza population is unable to travel to the West Bank and few in Gaza believe that Hamas and Fatah will reach an agreement that has eluded the two parties for the last five years.

People on the beach in Gaza Photographer: shawgy al farra

Gaza's beach is full of life in the summer

The Gaza Corniche

But there is also some good news in Gaza's construction industry. Gaza City does have a new beach promenade, proudly referred to as the "Corniche," complete with palms and benches. Civil engineer Nahed el Nunu said he was pleased that order books were filling up. Over the last month, and for the first time in five years, he's been busy with work, but the uncertainty of life in the Gaza Strip is never far from his mind.

"It is a little construction boom," he said. "But the problem is that it could stop at any moment. There is no guarantee that it will continue. Today we can hire a few employees. It goes well for a while then it's all over again."

Problems with the supply in construction materials are beginning to appear, as Egypt closes some of the illegal tunnels that supply the Gaza Strip. Israel only allows construction material for official UN-approved projects into Gaza. That has made the illegal tunnels economic arteries for Hamas, which levies a tax on the goods that pass through them.

A file photograph dated 13 August 2008, shows a Palestinian worker digging a new tunnel between Gaza Strip and Egypt in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip. Photo: EPA/MOHAMMED SABER +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Tunnels are used as supply routes for Hamas in Gaza

Calls from Hamas for the creation of a free trade area between Egypt and Gaza has met with hesitation from Egypt, so Hamas leaders have now turned to Qatar. In response, the emirate has duly pledged to contribute some $254 million (194 million euros) to reconstruction and infrastructure projects in Gaza.

Gaza 2020 - a difficult future

Gazais in dire need of investment, but without serious changes, life there will continue to get harder, the UN said in its latest report, entitled "Gaza 2020." In the next eight years, the population in the territory is expected to grow from 1.6 million to 2.1 million. This will increase demand for water and electricity, the report said.

People waiting to enter Egypt from Gaza Photo: shawgy al farra

The Rafah border crossing with Egypt is not reliable

"To get a picture of the situation in Gaza, you take the city of Munich, which is about the size of Gaza, then take the populations of Munich and Bonn and put them together," said Robert Turner, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, referring to the German cities with a combined population of 1.7 million people.

"Then you get an idea of how people live here. And then you let everything in, which is good, but do not let anything out. No people and no goods," Turner added.

The situation around the border with Egypt has improved: up to 700 people a day can enter Egypt at the Rafah crossing point, according to UN statistics. The trips, however, can often seem like a lottery, as the checkpoint may be closed from one day to the next. Leaving through Israel, meanwhile, is denied most Palestinians. The outlook for young people is particularly difficult. Nearly every other Palestinian in Gaza under the age of 25 - almost half the population - cannot find work.

"Young people in particular are affected by extreme poverty," Turner said. "There is a motivated and well-educated population in Gaza, but it is losing more and more of its spirit. That is especially the case for young men who are losing hope because there is no real future for them here."

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